The Class Blu-ray Review
'The Class' is presented in widescreen 2.35:1 with MPEG-4 AVC coding.
This movie was shot in high definition (three cameras were utilised on the shoot) and, as expected, the image is completely free from any damage or imperfections. The footage was then transferred to film to offer a more cinematic feel, with the end result being a warm and welcoming transfer. There is a very light smattering of grain for the duration but this is always organic and unobtrusive. The colour palette is pastel heavy and always appears very naturalistic but never vibrant, even if primary colouring is for the most part well saturated. The contrast ratio is adequate but as the majority of the scenes take place in the sunlit classroom, the black levels never reach the cavernous depths which Blu-ray is capable of. The level of detail is good, with textures and labels clearly visibly on clothing, as are the individual links on the cheap gold/silver chains which adorn the necks of the students. Facial close-ups can be impressive, with detail such as the bulging vein on Marin's head standing out with clarity. The various skin-tones of the many ethnic backgrounds which feature are all spot on. This is a strange presentation; although it was filmed completely in high definition, Cantet has employed some focusing techniques which can cause (in conjunction with the transfer process) the image to appear slightly soft on occasion. Quick changes of focus are the main culprits in introducing this softness to the image and these shots feature predominantly throughout.
Overall this is a fine presentation which performs adequately with the source material but never reaches the level high definition excess, impressive depth or three dimensional pop which BD is capable of. The subtitles are large and never difficult to follow, even if they do stretch into the main image on occasions, leaving their usual realm of the letterbox black bars
'The Class' features an unusual French Dolby True HD 3.0 surround track.
As is to be expected from a classroom based drama, dialogue is the key driver in the audio department. There are no ambient effects or soundtrack to add filler to the main presentation, which is the first time that I have come across such an omission on a BD release. In one sense this results in a very one dimensional and un-exciting experience but on the other hand, this understated track really lends itself to the realism of the piece. The wide soundstage is full bodied during the classroom scenes with Marin's pleas to “Settle down” sounding clear and commanding through the incessant chatter of the students. The chattering is a wall of babbling nonsense, with several heated conversations oozing from the front channels, enveloping and smothering Marin's own voice (as well as the audience). Whilst this almost constant chattering never disrupts the flow of the movie it really does serve to highlight how distracting this is for Marin and how difficult it makes his job. At one point I was screaming at them to shut up while Marin was struggling desperately to simply do his job! Silence is also used intelligently to convey moments of calmness following a difficult class or to highlight the students' concentration when working on a task which they actually find interesting. There are a couple of ambient effects such as the school bell signalling the end of class or the sound of desk colliding with chair but ultimately there's not a whole lot going on here apart from dialogue. As is to be expected bass presence is almost nonexistent. In saying that, the track does pick up on all of the subtleties and quieter portions of the track and it really suits the movie itself.
Without a shadow of a doubt this track will not wow or impress but what it does do it bolster the feeling of being in a living, breathing classroom where the many voices of the various students come through loud and clear every time. Although restricted somewhat in its capabilities, this track performs admirably with the limited aural content that it has to work with.
'The Class' has an adequate extras package and as it's a Sony release, we've also got English subtitles on all the featured extras. Unfortunately there's no commentary track as such and all features are in standard definition. There is, however, a commentary feature wherein director Laurent Cantet and writer/actor Francois Begaudeau dissect some of the scenes from the movie and provide in depth commentary on each. The scenes included are “The Imperfect of the Subjunctive” (15mins), “The Courtyard Dispute” (8mins) and “The Disciplinary Board” (15mins). Begaeudeau expands on his real life versions of the scenes in the movie and expands on his experiences of working with the young cast. Cantet gives an explanation on his shooting techniques and discusses the characters involved and how the scenes were put together. They both discuss how their presentation compares to real life French classrooms and how difficult students like Souleyman would be treated in the real world. Both also give the incredible young actors involved in this movie the credit they deserve. Interesting but it's a pity that this commentary couldn't have been included for the entire presentation.
“Making of The Class” (SD 41mins) - This feature takes a look at how 'The Class' was made. It begins with improvisation workshops which were held at Francoise Dolto High School, wherein all the young actors were given instruction on how to behave when the cameras were rolling. Begaudeau worked closely with the actors, as did Clanet, to ensure that all of their ideas for the movie worked in practice. It's evident that reality was a key factor for the success of the movie and all the actors involved fed into this process. The overall feel of the backstage footage (and there's tons of it) is one of openness, where the script acted as more of a guideline, rather than a document that had to be followed to the letter. There are plenty of interviews with Bergeadu, Clantet and all the other actors involved and the feature concludes with the premieres of the movie (including the Cannes screening). This is an interesting and worthwhile feature.
“Actors Workshop” (SD 30mins) - This is basically footage from the improvisation workshops, which all the young actors attended prior to filming. This feature shows how the scenes included in the movie were ironed out, ammended and tested, prior to committing to film. One on one improvisation exercises, as well as “deleted scenes” (alternate takes on the included scenes in the movie), are also included in addition to the group workshops.
”Actors Self Portraits” (SD 12mins) - This short feature gives all of the young actors a chance to personally deliver their own self portraits.
Theartrical Trailer - A single 1080p trailer for the movie.
Trailers - Nine 1080p trailers for 'Every Little Step'; 'Easy Virtue'; 'I've Loved You So Long'; 'Paris 96'; 'Married Life'; 'The Jane Austen Book Club'; 'Damages Season 4'; 'Casino Royale' and 'The Da Vinci Code: Extended Cut'.
Overall this is an above par extras package that provides plenty of insight into the movie itself and the actors involved. BD Live is also included and features the usual slew of HD trailers and interactive mini-games.
'The Class' was released in 2008 and was directed by Laurent Cantet and is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Francois Begaudeau. Begaudeau himself takes on the lead role, playing an exasperated teacher (Francois Marin), who encourages discussion driven learning in an underprivileged Parisian high school. His students are unruly and opposed to learning what they view as outdated and outmoded subjects. They challenge Marin daily and push him to the limits, forcing him to act under school protocol and against his real wishes to punish those he is desperately trying to help and educate. This is an incredibly engaging and engrossing piece that never feels as long as it's hefty run-time (129mins). This fact is aided by the impressive display of raw acting talent by both Begaudeau and the young cast of unknowns. I got the feeling that I was watching something very special and dynamic occurring on screen. Cantet and Begaudeau somehow manage to keep the entire presentation completely believable and fluid - an amazing feat taking into consideration the fact that he was working with thirty or so young actors with little or no acting experience. The chemistry between Begaudeau and his students is very impressive indeed. With improvisation encouraged on set, this movie really serves to accurately depict the organic and evolving relationship that a teacher has with his class, while also providing a social commentary on the future of France and her education system. This movie comes highly recommended and is a welcomed break from the norm.
Filmed initially in high definition and then transferred to 35mm film stock (to offer a more cinematic feel), this presentation is somewhat of a mixed bag. For the most part it's solid and has good colouring and impressive clarity. Softness does creep into the image at regular points which is a result of Cantet's quick focusing techniques which are used when rapidly moving around the classroom. The uncompressed Dolby True HD soundtrack is an usual one in that it only features the left, right and center channels. As is to be expected the track is not overly exciting or impressive but does provide some nice directionality and those all important vocals are always crystal clear. As is the case with the video presentation, the audio track performs to its maximum capabilities with the limited material (and channels) it has to work with.
The extras package is comprehensive for a foreign language release and contains plenty of behind the scenes footage and commentary on how the movie was created. The omission of a feature commentary track and perhaps a “Where Are They Now” retrospective documentary are the only major omissions. This is a worthwhile package and while the audio and video presentations will not make their way into the demo category, they none the less do a fine job with the source material. But these are not the reasons why you would purchase such a movie; it's the opportunity to witness one of those rare cinematic occasions where all the pieces fall into place to create a charming, intelligent and engrossing piece of film-making. Highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.77
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